Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Winged Migration-or, as the original French title Le Peuple
migrateur might have it, Migrating People-is playing at the
Del Mar in Santa Cruz. It's directed by Jacques Perrin,who also
did Microcosmos, a documentary about insects, and it features
an over-the-top musical score by the same guy, Bruno Coulais.
This is an amazing film, as much for the way it withholds information
and sneaks in ideology as for its labor intensive tour-de-force
cinematography. One review mentions 3 years' worth of filming,
with 5 crews of 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers.
The interview on Fresh Air talked about amazing remote flying
devices and battery-operated helicopters that follow the birds
close-up and at their speed, so they seem to be flapping their
powerful wings at a near stand-still. While the opening credits
proclaim that no special effects were used-and how sad that
now we actually have to say that when fabulous cinematography
occurs!-nevertheless, the movie is a triumphant result of nature
and artifice almost seamlessly blended together. Donna Haraway,
writing about the long histories of cross-species interaction
that includes humans, speaks of naturecultures. In Winged Migration,
we see such an example, although it's concealed from view in
favor of a more sinister story about human-animal encounters.
The director explained in the interview that some of the birds
were trained from infancy to follow camera and crew, through
the process known as imprinting.
The human-related encounters we see in the movie are not, for
the most part, benign. The exceptions, in fact, betray the nationalist
ideologies at work in the film. In two very pastoral, very romanticized
rural locales in France, for example, a young boy frees a goose
trapped in some fish netting, while an old peasant woman hand
feeds the cranes who come to sojourn annually in her pasture.
Eastern Europe is the place where massively polluting factories
visit oily destruction upon exotic Asian migrating geese, whereas
America-surprise, surprise-is where hunters annually shoot large
numbers of traveling ducks. In Africa and the Arctic, of course,
there are no people at all, only seriously predatory animals.
Two particularly violent scenes involve crabs, on the one hand,
and something that looks like a Dodo bird, on the other.
An astonishing aspect of Winged Migration is how it withholds
information about the birds, mentioning only their type, the
number of miles they travel, and their points of origin and
destination. I loved this touch. The film deliberately refuses
to be educational, refuses the generic conventions of Animal
Planet or National Geographic or even of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
These are not strange creatures we are allowed to distance with
a series of facts and figures; rather, they are some of the
beings with whom we share the earth, awesome, struggling beings
who persist despite the obstacles both we and the planet throw
in their path. They fly across continents, every year, because
they must. And flying is a strenuous, exhausting activity.
Winged Migration is powerful, moving and disturbing. It poses
a challenge to us to recognize birds, not as exotic symbols
of freedom, of our desire to sprout wings and fly, but as a
species that struggles to survive, like us, and whose flight
is as necessary as the air we both breathe.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.